Reason #4–Ten Reasons Most Major Donor Programs Suck!

Reason #4—Wrong People Hired as Major Gift Officers 

This one is a touchy subject as I find that non-profits have a very tough time attracting and cultivating good people as major gift officers.

But, before we get into that, let’s look at what I believe are the attributes that make an excellent major gift officer:

  1. Loves People—great major gift officers love to be around people.  They have great EQ (Emotional Quotient) and have the ability to read people easily.  Good MGO’s don’t necessarily have to be raging extroverts, but they should care deeply about people and not be afraid to engage.
  2. Self-Motivated—this one is essential.  A great MGO doesn’t need someone looking over them every second.  They know what needs to be done everyday and they do it.  That being said, they also don’t mind being held accountable because they know that actually helps them get their work done.  Self-motivated people understand that they have to report to management in order to build trust and report on results.
  3. Confidence—This is a quality that cannot be taken lightly.  An MGO has to know their “product.” They have to know how to talk about it in a way that helps a donor feel good about the investment they are considering. Being knowledgeable and confident will help sell the program, project or service to the donor.
  4. Organized—This is a tough one for many MGO’s I have managed.  Many times sales people are not the greatest with organizational skills.  However, as an MGO, they have to at least “manage” this responsibility or allow themselves to be managed by someone who will hold them accountable.  Good data and information are key elements to building a strong major gift program.  Data and information has to be kept current and in a central system so that management has the ability to extract up-to-date information at all times.
  5. Ask—Now, you’re thinking, “Well, of course, this is a no-brainer.”  Let me tell you something.  I’ve run into more MGO’s who are actually afraid to ask.  In the sales business it’s called “The close.”  I’ve managed MGO’s who are great with people, confident, motivated and organized, but can’t make the ask.  Great MGO’s, if anything, have to be fearless in their ability to set up and execute on the ask.

Okay, these are the essentials in what makes up a great MGO.  Unfortunately, great MGO’s are hard to come by, which is why major gift programs struggle.  The key is to screen well at the point of hiring, continually train, provide support and, for those that are your stars, pay them well.  One rule of thumb is to seek the 10:1 ROI.  For every dollar you spend on your caseload you want to get $10 in return.

Warning Signs 

Here are a few warning signs that your MGO just doesn’t have it:

  1. Consistently not making monthly goals.
  2. Seems to always be in the office.  Great MGO’s are always out meeting donors.
  3. Working on other “projects” except their caseload.  Your MGO should have no more or less then 150 people on their caseload.  If they are working it successfully there should be nothing more they can do.
  4. Continually downgrading goals.  This mean they either don’t know their donors in the first place or they are not doing a good job cultivating them.
  5. Always looking for new donors rather than cultivating their own caseload.

If you’re seeing this behavior with your MGO you need to immediately put a strong management plan into place if you don’t have one already.  And, if you see this happening consistently, you need to replace them with someone that can do the job.

You are doing no one a favor by keeping an ineffective person in his or her position.  Not them, not you, not your mission.

I’ve seen many non-profits invest so much time and energy on an MGO and it goes nowhere.  The non-profit gets wowed by the great sales job the MGO does in getting the job and then they never deliver.  If you see a resume with consistent moves every 2-3 years…run.  Do NOT hire this person.


About Jeff Schreifels and Richard Perry

Jeff Schreifels and Richard Perry have over 55 years of experience fundraising for non-profits. Richard Perry was co-owner of Domain Group until 2005. Jeff Schreifels was a Senior Strategist for Domain Group for 12 years. They came together a few years ago to start Veritus Group, a full-service major gift fundraising agency. Veritus Group has a unique, data-driven approach unlike any agency focused on major gifts. Jeff and Richard are passionate about their work, passionate about life and hopes this blog will provide you with insights and tangible benefits for you and your work. Thank you for reading!
This entry was posted in Development Directors, Hiring, Major Gift Officers, Major Gifts, Non-Profits, Philanthopy. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Reason #4–Ten Reasons Most Major Donor Programs Suck!

  1. LaVal says:

    Great post. I would add to the Warning signs…The do not have a well laid out development plan.

  2. Pingback: 4 Unconventional Ways to be a Successful Major Gift fundraiser | Passionate Giving

  3. Marsha Shotley says:

    Just posting a MGO position. Relating to your comments about hiring the right MGO, what questions could you ask at the interview to ensure you are getting these attributes?

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